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By: Debbie Madden

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June 29th, 2017

Women Entrepreneurs Are Not Victims of Our Choices

Stride News

This post originally appeared on Medium here.

As much as I’m a huge fan of Gimlet and their new Brooklyn-based podcast Startup, I have a major issue with Season 5, Episode 4 — Running a Family and a Business.

In this episode, executive coach Jerry Colonna chats with Diana Lovett, a female founder and mother, who shares that being a mom and entrepreneur is challenging.

As a female tech entrepreneur who founded Stride, growing the business from 60 people in 3 years, all while battling cancer and raising 2 kids in New York, I strongly disagree with how the episode paints women entrepreneurs as victims of our busy lives.

Communication like this is toxic.

Women entrepreneurs are not victims. We choose to be entrepreneurs. And most of the time, we choose to be parents.

Of course, being an entrepreneur is hard, but that’s what we signed up for. We understand that most startups fail going into it. In fact, only 4% make it to $1M. Only 0.4% make it to $10M.

As women entrepreneurs, we have the choice as to what role we play in our business and how much time we invest as it scales. We understand that it requires a strong degree of sacrifice and grit to succeed.

Regardless, being an entrepreneur is a choice.

It’s a choice to throw in the towel or keep running the charge. It’s a choice of how the business is run. Long hours and stress come with the territory, but at the end of the day, it’s still a choice.

There are mothers out there who have much less empowerment in their careers, like single mothers who are raising their children who punch the clock just to get food on the table, and these women have little choice. Not only is there little choice, it’s far less choice than a female entrepreneur.

Being an entrepreneur is never about playing the victim. Being an entrepreneur is about grit and slogging through complexity. It’s about how much you as the entrepreneur are willing to slog through to make a difference in what you believe is worth the sacrifice.

Women entrepreneur mothers are the Olympic athletes of business. Olympians sacrifice for their dream. When you hear them speak, you hear drive and passion. They recognize the sacrifice they make every day and are laser focused on the potential reward on the other side.

The current story of telling women who choose to be a mother AND an entrepreneur involves “just dealing with it and finding the willpower” is awful.

We must change the story. My message to women who are mothers and entrepreneurs is — we control the story. We control what we choose to sacrifice for our dreams. We control how much time we want to spend building our businesses versus spending time with our loved ones.

It’s a mistake to pity ourselves and say “If only I had more time in the day.” There are 24 hours in the day. Always was, and there always will be.

The choice is up to you as to how to spend that time. The best we can do is choose to spend it wisely.

Here’s what I do: Every year, I make a list of my top three personal priorities and my top three work priorities. I write down annual goals for each and then list one or two outcomes for each.

Listen, this is real life, it’s not tinkerbell land. Every day I make choices, and many of them are very hard. Some days I even cry.

Yet every day I wake up knowing that my life is my choice to make, my life is mine to live one day at a time.

I have a few rules that I set with myself and I feel good about them and they help me manage my time:

  • I exercise 2 to 4 times per week, 30 minutes each.
  • I spend time with my children’s school activities only if I get to also spend time with my children during these activities. So, I’ll chaperone a school trip because I get to spend the day with my son or daughter, but I won’t spend three hours setting up for a festival when the kids aren’t around.
  • I eat reasonably healthy, yet I only cook once per week. I choose to buy a salad for lunch versus making one at home because the extra cost is worth the 30 minutes of time I get back.
  • Every year I take a weeklong vacation with my kids in the summer and a weeklong vacation with my kids in the winter.
  • I live within 20 minutes of my office so that I can see my kids every morning and night.
  • I limit late night work commitments to a max of two nights per week.
  • I attend all doctor appointments, all school plays, all parent-teacher meetings.
  • I spend quality one-on-one time with each of my kids every week.
  • Once a year, I take a two-day vacation all by myself.

Having solid willpower isn’t easy. Forget trying to make tradeoffs and ignore the guilt -- that’s fighting a losing battle. Alternatively, set some rules for yourself and try to stick to them as best you can.

Here are a few of my rules that I understand have tradeoffs (and I’m fine with that):

If I exercised more, I might lose 5 pounds.

If I cooked more, I might save a little money.

If I spent more time at the office, I might grow my company faster.

If I lived farther away from work, I could own a bigger house with a backyard.

If I came home from work sooner, I could help my kids with homework.

But, I’m at peace with all of this. If I chose to worry every day, I would constantly be guilty and I’d be teaching my kids that I could never be good enough. My children don’t need me taking them to 15 activities per week while I’m tied to my phone and thinking about work. What my kids need is my mental presence during the time that I do spend with them.

This is where Lovett got it wrong. Spending time with our kids does not in and of itself teach them empowerment. Spending time with our kids does not inherently mean we have unconditional love for them. The saying ‘actions speak louder than words’ exists for a reason. Taking our kid to the playground and then sitting on the side doing emails does not a quality afternoon make.

No, instead, what matters to them is that we are mentally present in their lives and that we have meaningful conversations and model the way when they need guidance.

So, to Lovett and all the other women mom entrepreneurs out there — be strong. And remember — we choose entrepreneurship. It is not something that happens to us. It is something we go after with gusto, and something which we fight for every single day, because it’s something we believe is worth fighting for.

About Debbie Madden

Debbie has over 20 years of experience in NYC tech. She is passionate about helping businesses improve through software. As CEO, Debbie has unparalleled leadership experience in the technology space - she built 4 companies from the ground up prior to co-founding Stride.

With a reputation as a passionate woman executive in technology, Debbie is a sought after writer and speaker. She has appeared in popular media outlets such as Harvard Business Review, Huffington Post, Forbes and The Wall Street Journal.

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